The Politics of Weeping

by Rabbi Margaret Holub

I’ve been struck this past week, reading my various rabbis’ words as we process Operation Pillar, by all the talk of weeping.  “I weep for Israelis terrorized by sirens….”  “I weep for Gazans terrorized by Israelis….”  “I weep for everyone on both sides….”  There was a nice comment that someone made somewhere about how we shouldn’t forget to weep for the Bedouin in the southern Negev while we are weeping for both Israelis and Gazans.  And so on.

Then there were the comments telling the rest of us who we are allowed to weep for; I read one posting in another place from a rabbi admonishing the rest of us that we’re not entitled to weep for Gaza unless we have a first-degree relative in Israel, preferably directly in harm’s way.  That pissed me off.

And I also saw disgruntled comments that certain kinds of weeping — for the four Israeli dead, for example — just feed the evil delusion that this is a symmetrical conflict.  Or that if you only weep for the dead and destroyed of Gaza, you are self-hating, or at the very least, no one in the Jewish community will take your weeping seriously.

For a couple of days now I’ve been kind of anti-weeping.  But, like many of us, I’ve been feeling pretty damned impotent to do anything useful.  And today I got to thinking that maybe this is one role for rabbis: to weep.  And to share our sorrow and rage and all the rest, whatever piece of the whole scenario brings us to tears.  There’s plenty to cry about.  I haven’t personally shed any tears yet, but I’ve had knots in my stomach a lot and some sleepless nights.

But mostly I think it’s probably a good idea, at least for me, to try to stay centered and think.  What I am trying — not totally productively — to think about is what I have to offer that might be of help.  I don’t think that any of us can do absolutely the one perfect thing that will end the blockade, end the occupation and bring peace and justice.  It’s going to be partial from each of us.  So I’m also thinking that it’s probably not too productive to try to look tougher than I actually am, or smarter, or more radical.  though it’s hard for me not to try.  I was particularly moved by one person in our Rabbinic Council who said the other day that she’s not really in a position to be out front in public right now, but she can see doing some behind-the-scenes things, like making phone calls or writing press releases or even reaching out to other rabbis who are having a hard time right now dealing with this stuff.  When she said that I thought, wow, that’s something useful being said here.

But back to the weeping…  I think that all of us are moved to weep by different things, which is as it should be.  I don’t really think that one kind of weeping is better than another at this moment.  I kind of imagine us all at home, looking at our various computers and weeping, each in our own way, so that between us all we’re weeping over much of the tragedy/crisis/war/massacre and trying to find our voices and think how we can help.

And I find this comforting.


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